Oh boy, I'm in the money... section. After mindset and market, we are finally ready to approach money. Good, because creating is expensive in such a variety of ways.
I'm at an interesting little spot about charging for my work. I'd love to donate to some causes, but if I had the money, I'd be using it to invest in my business so that I could get rolling and be sustainable and be able to do better than a one-time five bucks and good luck. So occasionally, I might do some work for free.
For example, facepainting is up to half my income when I'm at a con. But in a few weeks, I'm going to an event and while my family is off having fun, I'll be spending a few hours painting probably a hundred or so kids for free. Because I want those kids to know that my church cares about them and their interests and what's fun for them.
My sister is starting a nonprofit to help her with the costs of rehabbing fawn – she's been doing this out of pocket for years. And I made her a logo and we're going to put it on fundraising items like t-shirts and coffee mugs. I don't have the money to just give to her (besides that would feel a bit weird) but this I can do.
I've also turned down a few things that I used to do for free to help someone get a start. Well, they're started now! I have my own projects I need to get rolling. I don't go around expecting artists and writers to create for me for nothing, or even for a promise of a “share of the profits” later, just because I want stuff made now.
Creating takes spoons*, y'all – that needs to be paid for or nothing else is getting done. Why, if I didn't have to worry about my family's multiple food allergies and sensitivities and regular old pickiness I'd have spoons enough to move mountains. I've grown to hate food-related minutiae so very much....
Ahem. Back to the book! My main takeaway from this chapter is a bit hard to choose, since there are so many good insights here.
But here's a quote: “Our best work comes from the tension of trying to serve our craft and meet the demands of the market.” - Jeff Goins, Real Artists Don't Starve
This makes sense. If you have no restrictions, no borders to work within, no rules to obey – then your work will lack form and focus. I've created some of my best art with a single calligraphy pen and black ink. Limitations force you to push to the edge of what's possible within them. And pushing to the edge is a key component of creating art.
Craft and market define one edge of a dimension that can shift an entire culture. Money can be not just a tool to create more art, but also an easily quantified metric by which to measure the impact your art is having.
Are you making money? If so, that means people are buying your work, which means they want it, which means you are delivering something that they previously didn't have, with a level of skill they consider worth paying for. That's awesome! Tell me about that in the comments.
If you aren't making money, I have this great book here that you might win if you leave me a comment.
*Reference to spoon theory - a useful analogy to describe rationing energy.
Here's one for all the shameless self-promotion shamers out there - “Promotion isn't something an artist avoids; it's an essential part of the job.” - Jeff Goins
I just recently read an article – actually a fisking of a blog post – in which Brian Niemeier corrects this guy who was spectacularly misinformed about whose job it is to publicize the work to those potential readers and who claimed that traditional publishing would be the pinnacle of success for himself as an author. Go read it yourself - some much-needed mythbusting going on over there.
The reality is this:
Having satisfied readers at the end of your story is the pinnacle of success for authors, and if they like your work they'll happily keep coming back and buying it.
All artists, in every media, whether the work is made available via the traditional gatekeepers or through the artists' own resources, are responsible for their own promotion.
The easy thing to do is just slap up a sign (or a tweet, or whatever) that proclaims, “Buy my book/art/adorable miniature hatchable dragon for your change jar here!” and be done. Unfortunately that doesn't work, no matter how cool your work is. It has to arrive before the inherent awesomeness can be appreciated, and before that, it has to be bought, and before that, people must be convinced that not only is your creation great and worth paying for, but that you also are worth paying.
Maybe traditional publishers and art galleries and retail stores were once the big social clue that you as a creator were worth paying for your creations, but they're all pushing so much garbage now that they've eroded their own status. Now, the idea of “mass-produced for the lowest common denominator” has lost its futuristic shine and the human desire to feel special is manifesting again in the demand for unique and custom-made everything.
So how do you prove you're worth paying and your work is worth paying for, if not by being vetted by gatekeepers of increasingly questionable tastes?
By practicing in public.
This blog, right now, is me practicing my writing in public. It's been really good for my mind, because I tend to go drifting on autopilot if I don't practice critical thinking and laying out my thoughts in order. Autopilot is bad, because I'll miss things like manipulation, hypocrisy, and headlines that boil down to “X said this about Y so today's gossip is Z!” I might've missed my opportunity to troll a ridiculously biased automated survey yesterday and gone about my day subconsciously freaking out that someone wanted to shut down the government and stop my parents' Social Security payments! Really. The options on that last question were either to increase government spending, or shut down the government which would stop Social Security checks. The stench of false equivalency was so strong I could smell it through the phone – but only because I was awake and listening.
Honestly, I paid good money for my education and it'd be a shame to just let it rot.
But, I don't just write. I'm also a visual artist, so I'll also be working on practicing that in public too. It's been working for Vane Flores, who posts her sketches and animation exercises on social media and has attracted commissions from famous YouTubers, had her work posted on Disney's Bambi FB page, and her Ren & Stimpy fanart has gotten a personal response (and maybe a job! Go Vane!) from the characters' creator, John K. If you are a fan of animation and character design, go check out her work. If you need some character design done, get her now while she's still open for commissions.
This has been a very linky post! Got anything to say about any of that? Leave me a comment and I'll throw your name in the hat to win a copy of Jeff Goins' book, Real Artists Don't Starve, which I've been sharing my notes on chapter-by-chapter.
Fine, It's Called “Collaborate With Others.”
Having had my ideas of being the lone mad genius smashed to smithereens, this chapter proceeds to set the smithereens on fire and, once cremated, sweep them into a tiny jar with the label “Here lie the remains of the idea of being a hermit and an artist.”
Hermit artists may occur in nature, but no one has ever seen one. Because they don't go anywhere or do anything with anybody.
I saw the names C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in this chapter and pounced on it. I love their work and I'd gladly follow in their footsteps if only I knew what those footsteps were. Evidently their footsteps led to regular meetings with other great writers over a period of seventeen years. This didn't make their works derivative of each other, but helped drive a passion to improve and continue writing.
This sounds like the kind of writing crit group I'd love to belong to. A place of mutual respect and accountability (that the know-it-all guy who's more concerned with being the alpha than being actual help doesn't attend).
I am collaborating a bit already – my amazing artist Mia takes my ideas for the comic and pushes them farther as she illustrates, and I love getting her feedback and looping her input into the storyline as well. I want her to have her creative freedom as well, even though it is work-for-hire. As a bonus, I'm learning so much!
My next step (ugh, I'm getting behind on all these steps) will be to try again on the writing crit group front. Or some kind of creative group. I know so many amazingly talented, creative people but I don't actually see them in the same place at the same time.
Just a reminder, I'm giving away one copy of Jeff Goins' bestselling book, Real Artists Don't Starve, to one commenter on this blog series. So, leave me a comment!
Have you found a good crit group? Any tips for me?
P.S. I have some errands to run before I can post my very linky catch-up post, stay tuned!
I can see that in the future, I'm going to have to think ahead quite a bit more to account for holidays.
I've been trying really hard to be "present" for my family lately, especially on occasions. Trying to work when my husband isn't at work himself creates some friction, because he works a lot and there isn't much time that he's here and, you know, awake.
Simultaneously, even though I want to spend time with him, and time with us all together, what my sanity needs is some time to myself. By myself. Completely alone for a couple weeks would be awesome, but right now I'm making do with hiding for thirty minutes every morning behind two locked doors with the shower running.
Such is the life of an introvert who failed to reproduce introverts and instead bred outgoing cuddle bunnies. They are quite awesome and I do love them, but... not the constant physical contact or the incessant and repetitive chatter. (I can't tell you how many times I've been working hard at consciously, attentively listening to my kids, waiting for them to finish what they're telling me, and realized they just said the same long sentence four times in a row because they just wanted to talk and that was all they had to say.)
My mind is pretty fairly unraveled by this point, and today we have company, so I have a bit longer to keep it together and then... I'm not quite sure when I'll get to sort myself out again. It's been awhile.
I will be continuing the series on Real Artists Don't Starve shortly.
Just let me hunt up my brain; it's squishing around here someplace. If I can, I'll be back later today with a couple catch-up posts.
a.k.a. I Swear You're Trying to Kill Me.
This chapter deals with creating in the right place, near the sort of people who will encourage your craft, where you will make connections and help other people make connections.
Okay, I've had my teacher baggage dredged up, I've hauled my past failures into perspective, I've even gotten to work on projects that I intend to actually show people – and now you want me to be social, too?!?!
One thing I love about this book (it is turning into a rather painful sort of love) is that it's giving me solutions that I honestly have not seriously considered before. It's also showing me where I've wanted the myth of the Starving Artist to be true, because I'm much more comfortable when things aren't my fault. And my isolation as a creator and as a human being in general is my own fault.
Maybe in the past I had good reason to prefer solitude and keep everything I cared about to myself, but now those habits are only hurting me. And having that pointed out is painful too.
I suppose that if it's going to hurt in either case, I'd rather have the healing pain of dealing with it than the slow rot of pretending nothing is wrong.
I don't think that right where I am could be considered a Mecca of the exact thing I'm trying to get into – but one of the good things about being interested in many art forms and attempting to synthesize them into a cohesive and unique whole is that what there is around here, I can use.
Comic cons are interesting and full of passionate fans of everything. Even the relatively small local cons are increasingly about more than comics, branching out into gaming, various TV and movie fandoms, and animation too. True, I spend the entire event in my booth being an awesome vendor, but maybe I could make more of an effort to go to the peripheral events. And there is an arts community – in this rural area, there are still county fairs with art exhibits of various kinds, and there are writers, maybe not in my genre but very respectable in their own genres. I could try a little harder to find people who would also understand the value of art and creating.
What about you? Do you have any sort of local creative scene you could get more involved in? And is that question as uncomfortable for you to deal with as it is for me? Leave me a comment and I'll enter you in the drawing to win a copy of Real Artists Don't Starve.
Am I even ready for this? I'm still dealing with teacher baggage from the last few chapters! Okay, here we go, all about cultivating patrons.
We're out of the Mindset section and into Market, which is something that definitely does not get covered in art class but is vital nonetheless if artists want to not starve. It opens with an Elvis story that I hadn't read before, and which I will not retell here because it really ought to be read in context to get everything out of it. But I will quote this bit: “If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate – a person who sees your potential and believes in your work.”
So, lonely, misunderstood artists slaving away in service of nothing but their passion who suddenly emerge from their solitude and strike the world still with their brilliant creation? That's a myth. What apparently really happens is that they emerge to find, like Rip Van Winkle, the world has moved on and their idea has already been done by someone with better publicity. At the time it looks and feels like someone “stole their idea,” but maybe it's just that they had no patron.
So how do you go about getting a patron? There may be some slaving away in solitude involved after all, because you have to have some kind of work to show that you're worth the trouble. And being able to take and use constructive criticism is a huge plus.
Manners are also a huge plus. Nobody owes you the time of day, so thank people for their interest in you and the time they spend helping you. Don't give them any reasons to regret making eye contact. And one of these people (evidently) will be so impressed by your work and your good attitude that they'll get as invested in your work as you are.
Now, there's nothing that special about an artist interested in his own work, but an artist plus another person interested in it? That's unusual. Make it another person who knows the genre or media well enough to make a reliable judgment about whether the work is good or not, and you have an influencer. And without one, the creative work won't spread far enough to make the impact you want it to make.
So, what's your project that's going to showcase your best skills to potential patrons, and is there any sort of project that you'd be interested in seeing?
Remember, commenters on this blog series are entered to win a copy of Real Artists Don't Starve by Jeff Goins. Just comment before the series is over!
Finally, Something I Know How to Do.
This chapter is all about stubbornness. While I still have trouble knowing when to be stubborn, I do know at least that I've got it in me.
Yesterday's post forced me to confront a scary truth about myself. I started off this book thinking sure, I know who I am and I'm secure in my art and vision and message and all that. But yesterday, I realized that I'm really still thinking like the girl I was in college – firmly convinced that I'm not worth anyone's time, just plugging away trying to learn more, without hope of “getting discovered” or whatever. My teachers all said there was way too much competition in the arts and hardly anybody made a living at it, after all. I was there to learn to draw and to please my teachers, and when those motivations got stripped away, I quit.
I walked away from a full scholarship and deliberately failed a class because the final exam was to show up and sign in and leave – the teacher wouldn't even be there.
In retrospect, it wasn't a great decision. But I was a teenager used to being treated as an adult at home, and I was insulted. All semester, I had driven an hour to get to the campus, had a morning class, and then waited around for two hours before that class started. I did all my homework with excellence and left bored every day. I'd tried to talk to the teacher (also my advisor) after class about some kind of extra credit or project or anything I could do, and when another student started just talking over me, I was the one told to “calm down.” All semester, I'd fought the feeling that the class – maybe all my classes – were a waste of my time, and that “exam” proved it.
I left that college believing that I wasn't worth the time to teach properly, and now that I'd blown my scholarship on this place, I couldn't afford to go to a college that was even equipped to teach what I wanted to learn anyway. The only thing I felt confident in anymore was English class, so, after a couple years of failing everything else I tried, I went to a different college and enrolled as an English major.
I slayed being an English major. Any time I wanted to quit, I remembered what it was like to wait tables and be screamed at by my manager. I remembered what it was like when my great-aunt – who I was a live-in caretaker for briefly before we realized she had dementia – grabbed the car keys and ran away from home for an entire day. I remembered what it was like to fail at caring for her and come back home with everything I'd worked so hard for as a teenager gone, with no way to get it back. And I graduated with honors.
In my last post, I tried to describe the push that makes decent work into art. Now, this chapter is talking about that weirdly competitive zone you get into when you aren't going to let it beat you – whatever “it” may be. Other people, your circumstances, your own doubts or whatever it may be, you won't allow them to stay in your way. Jeff Goins says, “When you harness your strategic stubbornness, you give the world a reason to believe in your work.”
It's funny, because I don't think of myself as competitive and I'd just as soon opt out of a “game” entirely as soon as it seems like I'm getting dragged into something pointless (social status games come to mind). But when I'm up against something that I want to beat, I'm all in. Also, if I lose in one arena, I simply shift to the next arena I can win... and I may not be terribly concerned with any rules that don't actually disqualify me from winning. (When you grow up with brothers, you learn to be suspicious of extra “rules” that give other people advantages.)
I think everyone has this in them. It just needs to be tapped into and applied in the right way – not to trample people, but to build up your own life above whatever rut you may have fallen into.
What triggers your competitive streak, and how can you harness that to drive you on to where you want to be?
At the end of this series, I'll be giving away a copy of Jeff Goins' bestselling book, Real Artists Don't Starve. To enter, just leave me a comment on any post in the series about the book. If I draw your name, I'll email you and get your address so I can mail it directly to you.
Or you could just buy the book. It's worth buying, and if you bought through my link you'd be supporting my site since I'm an Amazon Affiliate now. Out of all the things I could be reviewing right now, this book has enough material to prompt a 14-part series from me, so imagine what kind of insights you'd be getting.
Heading into chapter 3 of Jeff Goins' Real Artists Don't Starve and I've hit big trouble. Specifically, in this axiom of the New Renaissance: “The Starving Artist believes talent is enough. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.”
It's not that I think I'm so smart and talented that I'm done learning – quite the opposite. I love learning. I'd have stayed in college and collected more degrees if I could've afforded it. I have a lot of respect for teachers. I'll learn just about anything a person is willing to teach. I'd love to apprentice.
Unfortunately most of my heroes are dead.
C.S. Lewis – Christian fantasy writer whose work has made it to film (posthumously, but still). Solid mythology and theology, and beautifully clear writing. If only I could learn such clear-mindedness.
J. R. R. Tolkien – Christian, epic fantasy writer, fantastic films from his works, yes, but what I really want to know about is being a linguist and (IIRC) mapmaker. I so want to create languages and realistic maps of my worlds. There is no telling how long it would take me to gain even a shadow of his mastery of worldbuilding and more importantly, culture-building.
Walt Disney – holy cow, y'all. Inventor, artist, voice actor, showman – if there was an occasion, he rose to it. If there was a need, he threw himself in and filled it. If there was a problem, he dug in until it was solved. He had grand visions and he saw them through. If I could learn one thing from that incredible man... who am I kidding, I'd be happy to fetch coffee and doughnuts for him every two minutes if it meant I could hear him just talk about how he kept going in the face of so many setbacks and how he brought people around to help him achieve so much.
Steve Jobs – The iPad changed my life. I had always wanted a “computer book” like Penny had in the Inspector Gadget cartoon (and now you know far too much about me and my childhood) and the iPad was everything I thought it would be. Apple is now getting too fiddly for me, and drifting wide from the simple unbreakable elegance of Jobs' vision. He was the visionary of my generation. I want to know if it's possible to duplicate the “reality distortion field” he was rumored to have, because that would be a cool superpower.
By the way, all these great masters and many more are featured in the book. I was so excited to read a few stories about them I hadn't come across before, and see how lessons could be drawn from their lives that I could apply to my own.
For living masters, I greatly admire the imagination and attention to detail of Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda, who may or may not be competitors in the realm of anime feature films in Japan. Their work is thematically and stylistically very different, but they both have such an incredible grasp of the universal and the specific of human nature. The movies are for Japanese audiences, but they translate so well. (Though Ponyo makes more sense with the sound off. I have no idea what Ponyo's dad was muttering about and his explanations were clear as mud).
Anyway, unless something significant changes around here, I'm not going to get an apprenticeship with any masters of animation in Japan. And it's not likely that I'll come in contact with any in America either - John Lasseter comes to mind. He's done so much amazing work with Disney and Pixar, and pulled them both free of the muck of formulaic storytelling while still delivering stories that have that universal and specific magic in them. I can see where he's learned from Miyazaki there. Probably the thing I'd have to be most concerned about if I did have a chance to learn directly from him is how to not just copy how he does things but to also remain my own person with my own vision, too.
To be honest I'd have that problem with any master. I really do have a ton of respect for teachers, despite a few who seemed to try really hard to disillusion me. And I can see how special it is when someone who's achieved mastery in their chosen arena takes the time to teach someone, because teaching is the most time-consuming, frustrating, crazy-making thing there is. If the precious gift of their time, attention, and interest was directed toward me, of all people, I don't know what I'd do.
I guess I could write some non-stalkerish letters to people I admire who may actually write back. And finishing one of these ambitious projects would be good, so... back to the grind!
There is much more to say about the book, so come back tomorrow, and if you want to enter to win a copy for yourself, just leave a comment on any post in this series. For instance, I'd like to know who your heroes are. Who would you love to learn from, and what do you want to know?
Hey y'all, I intended to carry the posts through the weekend as well but... looks like weekends are not particularly good for writing. So I'm trying things and learning as I go, which beats sitting around and wondering why I'm not getting anywhere.
Today's chapter deals with "Originality" vs. "Theft"
No, we are not talking about passing off someone else's work as your own or pretending it's okay to post unattributed works. But this chapter is about bringing together everything your know and love about many art forms in your own work rather than forge ahead trying to create original art out of pure nothingness. With thousands of years of recorded human history and art, the odds are against that approach anyway.
For example, I am not reproducing the entirety of the book here but rather giving an only slightly spoilerish review of each chapter, plus my own thoughts about what I learned and what that means for my next step.
The concept of bringing together the best of many disciplines is probably easier for polymaths to put into practice - if you're already into everything and trying several art forms, fusing them together is really the next logical thing to do. Here's a quote from Jeff Goins' bestseller Real Artists Don't Starve about the sort of "theft" that's okay in art: "The best artists steal, but they do so elegantly, borrowing ideas from many sources and arranging them in new and interesting ways."
I like that - a lot. It's what I've been trying to do already, and it's a big part of the reason I want to get into animation for my stories. Animation calls for such a huge variety of skills to bring the project to life - writing, of course, and drawing, but also acting, music, sound effects, light, color, mood, an understanding of what's simultaneously universal and specific about people. I'm always baffled by people who look down on animation as just being cartoons. Have they never really considered all the vast array of talents and the sheer amount of work that it takes to put together even a simple cartoon?
One thing I thought that this chapter could have dealt with more is the need to push the work that you're creating. It's mentioned as a matter of course, but it's such a crucial aspect of creating art that it may need its own chapter. But then again, it's a hard thing to quantify in words. Let me see...
The push - when you've done enough and it's decent, but there's an itch in the back of your mind when you just about know the direction your work is going. You could almost see the next mark to make, or the next bit to peel away, but at the same time, it's risky because you have an equal chance of destroying your decent work while trying to make it art. Is it worth pushing when you don't know where the edge is?
In a word, yes. When your work is in your hands and you feel that itch, that almost-in-tune feeling just before it sings or it cracks, push. Push to the edge and don't stop too soon.
Okay, y'all know by now that I am giving away a copy of Real Artists Don't Starve, right? Here's how to put your name in the hat for the giveaway: Leave a comment with your name on any of the blog posts in this series about the book. Counting the introduction and the conclusion, that will be 14 posts. I'll try to post daily but I may not make weekends.
I'm not exactly thrilled with this blog layout, because it isn't very obvious how to leave comments, but if you click on the number of comments in the top right corner of the post, you should get there.
Thanks so much for reading, and I'll see you tomorrow!
Chapter One: Becoming an Artist
The first myth Jeff Goins tackles is "The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one."
Being an artist is a process of continually becoming one, yes. Sometimes I think that we need to say we practice art, like a doctor practices medicine or a lawyer practices law. It's all practice - applying what we know to the best of our ability, but the scope is too great to presume we ever master it.
And here's an awesome concept: "At any point in your story, you are free to reimagine the narrative you are living.... adopting an entirely new identity - or a very old one."
(Somewhat modified quote there, note the 4 dot ellipsis indicating the abridgment of the original passage)
That idea is worth sitting with for a bit. If you could be anyone in the world you wanted to be, without changing your external circumstances, who would you be? Who would you enjoy being? What sort of person has a shot at climbing out of circumstances like yours (because I know some joker is thinking, oh, I'd love to be the sort of person who's already having a great life, thanks!)?
For me, I'm wondering if I'm adhering to rules and norms that aren't good for me. Maybe guidelines I've outgrown or warnings that are useful for a completely different personality than mine, or tips for communicating to people that aren't really in the audience I want to speak to.
Right here in chapter one, I found enough reason and inspiration and a kick off the couch to restart this blog. I've been poking around with rough drafts and groaning about it for weeks. Yeah, I know I need to write the blog, it's not like I can't write... but I can't make it perfect, and amazing, and relatable, and nobody reads the thing anyway... I know what I need now is consistency, let me get a whole bunch of perfect, timely posts written ahead of time... Well that one's too late to post now...
And on and on it went.
So instead of putting off writing this blog forever because I'm so scared of it not being perfect, I'm just writing the thing. If I could be any sort of person in the world, I'd be the sort of person who is free to ditch things that don't work, but who doesn't look down on the things that do. Freaking out about perfection doesn't get the job done. Posting what's on my mind without first agonizing over whether my social filter was in place when I wrote it - I don't know yet if that works or not, I haven't tried it long.
Useful Questions from This Chapter
I think that the best way to become an artist is to start with who you already are and work from there to who you are supposed to be. Along the way, you'll create. You'll practice art. And while you're practicing, you'll be becoming.
So who are you? What rules are you following? At this point, are they helping you or hurting you? What "can't" you do that you actually need to be doing? Who are you really supposed to be?
Something really fun here is that at the same time as I was reading Real Artists Don't Starve, I was also reading Overcome by Clayton King and The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron. These were good to have on hand for this chapter. Also, for us introverts, might I also recommend Susan Cain's Quiet.
If you're interested in buying any of those books, I'd greatly appreciate it if you used my links! I'm just now experimenting with the Amazon Affiliate thing and I'd get a few cents commission if you do. The great thing about the program is that they have so much to choose from, I don't feel any pressure to promote anything I can't get behind 100%.
I will be giving away a copy of Real Artists Don't Starve to one lucky commenter on this blog! Please leave a comment on any post in this series about the book if you want your name in the hat. There may even be a literal hat involved. I'll see if I have a nice steampunk top hat left around anywhere. I will announce the winner here and in the newsletter, so you might want to think about signing up for that too, especially if you have any interest in webcomics, cosplay, and comic cons.
Artist, writer, creator of stuff. I just want to build worlds for you to escape to.